The Academy of Art compliance hearing: We should live so long

by Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

After 20 years, school still violates laws with impunity, pays no fines – and leaves some Planning Commission members stunned

More than 20 years after the Academy of Art University began gobbling up San Francisco real estate and violating planning codes all over the map, the Planning Commission heard today that maybe, sometime the summer, there might be some effort to do something about it.

The commission heard an update from the planning staff about the school’s master plan and an environmental impact report on its development future – and then heard from activists who remain stunned that this situation has gone on as long as it has.

“This has been going on for two decades,” Chris Martin, a waterfront activist, said. “I’m not sure that there has ever been in history a property owner violating the planning code to this extent.”

AAU has blatantly changed the uses of property without the proper zoning or permits, has cannibalized rent-controlled housing stock to the extent of a least 1,000 units and turned it into short-term dorms, and acts as if the laws that every other owner deals with don’t apply.

It’s been so bad that back in 2012, City Attorney Dennis Herrera told the planning director that “you continue to allow the [school] to violate the law without consequence.”

Now, Martin pointed out, the city planners have gone a step further: They have agreed to hold what could be millions of dollars in fine in abeyance as part of a negotiation to encourage AAU to follow the law.

That’s right: The city has told the school that if it finally, years later, fixes some of the problems it’s created, maybe it won’t have to pay the fines it owes…

Scott Sanchez, the zoning administrator, told the commissioners that the fines on just one illegally converted property now total $500,000. But “no penalties have been paid,” he said.

Most property owners who defied the city for this much time would have the City Attorney’s Office moving to collect the money, by placing liens on the property if necessary.

Commissioner Kathrin Moore was visibly frustrated by the department’s report. If the school isn’t accountable for its past violations, she wondered, what will make it behave in the future?

“Painful” as it is to say, she noted, “The EIR will be ignored, penalties will be ignored, housing will be ignored.”…(more)

We should all live so long and be so rich as to see our crimes declared legal.

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